For the past three years the good people of St. Joseph, Missouri have been treated to an unusual sight in this day and age: a priest in cassock walking their city streets. As recently reported by Our Sunday Visitor:
Walk the streets of St. Joseph, Missouri, and you may have a memorable encounter with a tall young priest wearing a black cassock and Saturno clergy hat, a rosary in one hand and large crucifix in the other. The priest is Father Lawrence Carney, ordained for the Diocese of Wichita, Kansas, who for the past three years has devoted much of his time to street evangelism: strolling down inner city streets, praying the Rosary and sharing the Gospel with those who approach him.
Father Carney says that the idea of donning the cassock and making himself a visible witness to the Gospel came to him while walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain several years back. Along the “Way” Fr. Carney opted to wear his cassock. He estimates that he spoke with over 1,000 fellow travelers during his 32 day pilgrimage.
The attraction of people to a priest in a cassock, both for Catholics as well as non-Catholics, is explained by Fr. Carney this way:
“There’s something mysterious about the cassock; it acts like a magnet, drawing people to you…It is a sacramental that has a special blessing that the suit does not have.”
One friend of Fr. Carney’s who has seen his evangelizing first hand described it as follows:
“It was beautiful and amazing. Young and old, rich and poor, and men and women would come up to him and immediately start talking to him about their problems. Teenage girls and young women were crying to him about things going on in their lives. It was like they thought he was God walking the earth.”
For those in the Church already blessed with a personal, experiential, knowledge of the truth and beauty of tradition, the efficacy of Fr. Carney’s efforts is not surprising. Catholicism attracts. A priest in a cassock attracts.
It should also come as no surprise that Fr. Carney’s continued formation and sanctification has come through an embracing of tradition.
Currently “on loan” to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Fr. Carney serves as chaplain to the traditional order of nuns, the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. If that name sounds familiar, it should. In recent years the sisters have released their beautiful recordings Advent at Ephesus and Lent at Ephesus; both have been bestsellers.
He visits the community daily to celebrate Mass according to the extraordinary form (yes, the Latin Mass!), hears their confessions, and offers spiritual guidance.
Writing over thirty years ago from an aggressively secular, post-Christian, France the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre noted the visible witness given to the Catholic faithful by the priest in cassock:
“The great boast of the new Church is dialogue. But how can this begin if we hide from the eyes of our prospective dialogue partners? In Communist countries the first act of the dictators is to forbid the cassock; this is part of a program to stamp out religion. And we must believe the reverse to be true too. The priest who declares his identity by his exterior appearance is a living sermon. The absence of recognizable priests in a large city is a serious step backward in the preaching of the Gospel…”
While many bishops and brother priests today view the cassock, the biretta, or the Saturno as being rigid, nostalgic, or prideful, nothing could be further from the truth. The faithful are drawn to this visual expression of the sacramental priesthood. When we see priests in cassocks, we see our faith. We see a Catholicism, bold and unafraid to share the Gospel truth.
Let us support, through our prayer and words of encouragement, those priests who wear the cassock. May God send us more of these faithful priests!